Back in 1995, before YouTube and Pandora and satellite radio and MP3 players, we had to buy music on CDs at music stores. The biggest music store in Jeromeville at the time was Tower Records. Tower Records started in the 1960s in Capital City, just across the Drawbridge from here, and it eventually grew into a chain with locations all around the world. The Jeromeville location of Tower Records, on G Street downtown, was a new one; it had only been open for six months. I had read in the local news that many downtown small business owners and local elected officials were angry at the opening of Tower Records. They believed that a chain store had no place in their precious quirky little town, and that the City Council should take more action to ban chain stores. I thought that those people saying that were pretentious, and that it was not the place of a City Council to protect small businesses from competition, so I had no problem buying music at Tower.
New music was always released to stores on Tuesdays back then. I had math at 9:00 on Tuesdays, and then a three hour break. On the last Tuesday before finals, I got on my bike after math class and headed straight for Tower Records. It only took me about five minutes to get there. As I walked in, I saw a display for new releases in front of me. Half of the shelf was taken up by a CD case with strange abstract artwork on the cover. In the center was something resembling an eyeball, but the pupil of the eye was a solar eclipse with a corona around it, and a planet overlapped the solar eclipse on the upper right side. Above the eye was a beach, partially covered with clouds; on the lower left, puddles of water scattered on dirt gradually metamorphosed into fish. On the left spine of the custom-made CD case was a small blinking red light.
This was it. This was what I had come for: Pink Floyd’s Pulse album, the live album from their tour last summer and fall (which would be the band’s final tour).
The album had been released a week earlier in the UK, so many of the British people from the Pink Floyd Usenet group had already been talking about it. It was two and a half hours long, containing two full discs of live music. The first disc contained mostly well-known songs, as well as Astronomy Domine, an obscure song from their first album, which I had never heard. The second disc contained every song from their legendary 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon performed live, in order, and an encore of three more of their biggest hits.
After I grabbed a copy of Pulse, I looked around the store to see if I saw any other music I felt like buying. I also bought the album Sixteen Stone by a British grunge band called Bush. I had heard a song from it on the radio, and also someone in my building had it (I don’t remember who) and I remember really liking some of the other songs on it.
I got home a little before eleven and spent the rest of the morning listening to Pulse. I looked through the book that came inside the CD case several times; it contained photographs from the tour. Several pages had an abstract symbol in white superimposed over a photograph of a member of the band or one of the additional touring musicians. I noticed that some of the symbols and drawings resembled letters and figured out fairly quickly that the letters in question were the initials of the person photographed.
I logged on to the Pink Floyd Usenet group while I was listening. A Usenet group is a text-based ancestor of today’s Internet forum, and Pink Floyd’s group had been relatively active since I discovered Usenet groups a year ago. Someone with connections to the band had posted last summer, using the pseudonym “Publius” and an anonymous email address, claiming that the album The Division Bell had some kind of secret message and a reward for whomever decoded it. With the recent release of Pulse, the discussion had picked up again. I found the post where people had debated the meanings of those symbols and drawings, and someone had already pointed out the resemblance to band members’ initials. I decided not to reply, since Usenet users sometimes looked down upon those who posted without having anything useful to contribute to the discussion.
I did not get to finish listening to Pulse in one sitting. Right at the end of the song Eclipse on disc 2, the last song before the encore, I noticed that it was time to go to class. When I got back from class later that afternoon, I turned the music back on. But a few minutes later, during the second verse of Comfortably Numb, my music was suddenly drowned out by a loud techno reggae cover of the Beatles’ Come Together, coming from outside the room. I smiled, paused the CD, and walked out of room 221, down the hall toward room 222.
“Hey, Greg,” Ramon said when he saw me in the doorway. “You like it?”
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Is it too loud?”
“It’s ok. I’m not doing anything where I need it quiet, or anything.”
Liz Williams and Tina Nowell lived in room 222. Ramon Quintero had been Liz’s boyfriend since the middle of fall quarter, and he spent so much more time in Liz’s room than he did in his own room that he had moved the sign with his name on it from the door to his actual room on the third floor to Liz’s door. Tina had some kind of music-making software on her computer that Ramon liked to play with, and I was used to hearing this kind of loud music from down the hall by now. I did not mind, as long as it was quiet when I was trying to sleep.
A few days earlier, I had been sitting in Liz’s room, and Ramon was talking about his music. “I want to do a reggae version of Come Together,” he said.
“That sounds really cool.”
“I was thinking, like, what makes reggae sound like reggae? I had never really thought about it before,” Ramon said. I realized that I had never really thought about this either. “So I was listening to Bob Marley and stuff like that, and I noticed there’s more of a stress on the second and fourth beats instead of the first and third.”
I wasn’t an expert on Bob Marley, but I started singing One Love silently to myself, since that was one of the few Bob Marley songs I knew. “You’re right,” I said. “Interesting.”
“So how are your classes going?” Liz asked me. “Getting ready for finals?”
“They’re going okay, I guess,” I said. “I bombed my first physics midterm, but I’ve been studying really hard ever since. That’s the one I’m most worried about, just because I did so badly on that first one.”
“When is the physics final?”
I paused to think. “I don’t know,” I said. “I haven’t looked at my finals schedule yet. I should probably do that.”
“Yeah, you should. I have one Monday, two Wednesday, and one Thursday. That won’t be too bad.”
“I can’t believe the school year is almost over,” I said. “It seemed to go by fast, especially here at the end.”
“I know! We’ve almost finished a year of college!”
“Hey, listen to this,” Ramon said. “I turned up the bass a little.” He played his techno-reggae Come Together again, supposedly with more bass. I could not tell the difference, honestly.
“I’m not sure which way I like better,” I said. “Can you play the first one again?” Ramon did something on the computer and played it again the way it was the first time, and I said, “I think I like the second one better. I need to get to work, though.”
“Okay,” Ramon said. “Have a good one.”
“It was good talking to you,” Liz added.
I walked back to room 221 and got out the course schedule for this quarter. Finals did not happen at the usual meeting time for a class. The course schedule for each quarter had a page that said the final time for any given class. It was based on the time that the class usually met, so that, for example, every class that usually met on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9am would have the final at the same time, but this time would not necessarily be 9am. Each class was allotted a two-hour time slot, regardless of how much time the class normally met for. All of the necessary time slots required exactly six days, so finals week was the one time each quarter when classes were held on a Saturday.
I looked up the times for my four finals and thought, no, this can’t be right. That doesn’t make sense. I double-checked, and it did not make sense, but it was correct. This finals week was going to be a disaster.
For one thing, there was no dead time before finals this quarter. Fall quarter classes had ended on a Friday, and finals started the following Monday. For winter quarter, classes had ended on a Thursday, and finals began the following Saturday, so there was one so-called dead day of no classes before finals began. But this quarter, the last day of classes was Friday, and finals began on Saturday. To make things even worse, my physics final had the earliest time slot possible, Saturday morning at 8:00. This was less than 24 hours after my last actual physics class, Friday morning at 11. My final for Psychology and the Law was Monday morning, chemistry was Monday afternoon, and math was Thursday afternoon.
This was the worst possible scenario for me. My three most difficult finals fell on the first two days, and my easy final would not be until the end of the week. I was scared, and I did not know how I would be able to do this. I could have checked what my finals schedule would have been like before I registered for classes, but I figured it was just one week and that it made little sense to schedule my entire quarter around finals week. I wonder now, though, if I would have done things differently had I taken the time to check my finals schedule. Too late to change it now.
Later that night, after dinner, I wandered down to the common room. It was full. Liz and Ramon, Taylor, Pete, Sarah, Danielle, Gina, Mike Adams, Karen, David, Yu Cheng, and Schuyler were all watching the movie Forrest Gump. Ramon had bought the movie on VHS a couple weeks ago, and it seemed like he, or at least someone, had watched it every few days ever since then. I found an unoccupied seat on a couch and sat down. I had work to do, but it could wait. I didn’t need to do it right now. I loved this movie, and in the worst case, I had seen the movie before, so if I had to go get some work to do and not give the movie my full attention, I would not miss out.
The movie had just started a few minutes earlier. In the movie, Forrest was explaining that he was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a relative whom he called a Civil War hero.
“Forrest was named after the founder of the Klan,” Gina said. “I forgot about that part.”
“That must suck to have a famous relative, but it’s someone like that, not someone you want to be associated with,” Mike said.
“Probably,” I replied. “I don’t have any famous relatives. I wouldn’t know.”
“I don’t either.”
“My great-great-great-great-grandfather was a Vice President!” Karen exclaimed. At that moment, a thought crossed my mind. Maybe it was because Karen had talked about growing up in the South, or maybe it was because I knew someone else who was related to a Southern Vice President from early in the history of the USA, but as soon as she said that, I just knew that her famous ancestor was going to be John C. Calhoun.
“Who’s that?” Mike asked.
“John C. Calhoun!” Karen said. “He was Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.”
“I remember that name from history class,” Gina said.
“If that’s true, then you’re related to one of my friends from high school,” I said.
“Huh?” Karen replied, caught off guard by my comment.
“Do you know the Hallorans from Plumdale? Jessica Halloran? And her sister Jamie, and they have a bunch of younger siblings too. Jessica said once that she was related to John C. Calhoun.”
“No. But that’s funny that you know some distant relatives of mine. Weird.”
“Yeah. Jessica was one of my best friends. She took a year off to go volunteer at an orphanage in Guatemala.”
“Wow. That’s cool. Adventurous.”
“I know.” Currently as an adult, I am in Facebook contact with both Jessica and Jamie, but I never did find out if they knew Karen, nor do I think I’ve ever mentioned that I went to Jeromeville with some distant cousin of theirs.
I had noticed earlier that Jared was sitting in the corner alone with his Scrabble board, seemingly paying more attention to the board than the movie, placing tiles on the board. He was clearly not playing an actual game, since no one else was sitting with him. I walked over to him to see what was going on.
“Hey, Jared,” I said.
“Hi,” he said back, gesturing toward the board. “Check this out.” Jared had filled the entire board with interlocking dirty words. Private parts, biology terms, sexual slang, pretty much every inappropriate word I could think of was on the Scrabble board somewhere.
I began laughing. “That’s hilarious!” I told him. “This wasn’t a real game, was it?”
“No. It couldn’t be from a real game,” he explained, pointing toward the middle of the board, “because EJACULATE couldn’t have been played here in a real game. It’s too many letters, and none of these other words were here before, only this one.”
“Oh yeah. But couldn’t you… no, I guess not, there’s no shorter word you could have played first.”
“Yeah. I have three letters left, D, A, and E. I’m trying to figure out where to put them.” Jared scanned the board. He put the tiles going down from the D at the end of LAID, so that they spelled DEAD. “DEAD!”
“That’s not really a sex word, is it?”
“No, but it’s hilarious!”
I pointed at the H in HYMEN and gestured toward the empty space next to it. “What about HEAD?” I said.
“That works, but I like DEAD. It’s just funnier.”
“If you say so. It’s your game.” I did not understand why DEAD was so funny, but it is not important. I walked back across the room and sat next to Liz and Ramon, directing my attention back to the movie.
“My name’s Forrest,” Ramon said in an exaggerated Southern accent. “Forrest Gump.”
“Forrest Gump is kind of a cool name,” Mike said.
“Yeah,” Yu replied. “Except for the Gump part.” I laughed. Yu continued, “That could be my name. Forrest Cheng. Or maybe Yu Gump.”
“Yu Gump,” Mike repeated back. “I’m going to start calling you that.”
I was not looking forward to moving back home and being away from these silly, nonsensical random conversations. It seemed that these conversations were an essential part of the dorm life experience. Maybe I would have neighbors at my apartment next year who had random conversations like this. Or maybe I would still get together with some of these Interdisciplinary Honors Program friends next year. I hoped I would find something, because the IHP had really helped me feel like I had a home, a smaller group to belong to within the context of this very large university. I would need to find a new group next year.
“Hey, Greg?” Liz asked. “Did you ever figure out your finals schedule?”
“Yeah,” I answered, “and it’s going to be horrible. I have my three hard finals on the first two days, and then the easy one, math, isn’t until Thursday. There are less than 24 hours between my last physics class and the final.”
“Yeah. I’m really going to need to study hard over the next few days.”
“I know you can do it, Greg. And just think, once those three finals are over, you’ll only have an easy final left, so then you get plenty of time to pack and clean your room. And you’ll get time to hang out too.”
“That’s a good way to look at it. Thanks.”
“I had a hard schedule like that last quarter, with all my hard finals first. It wasn’t that bad, though. You’ll do fine.”
“I hope so.”
After the movie, I went upstairs. I could still get a good two hours of studying in before I went to bed. I put on Pulse for the second time that day and told myself that when the music ended, it would be time for bed. That sounded like a plan.
Forrest Gump’s mother said that life was like a box of chocolates, because I never knew what I would get. I did not know I would get this difficult finals schedule. All I could do now was make the best of it. One thing at a time. I had three more days of regular classes left, and I would use as much time as possible over those three days to study for physics. Once I finished physics Saturday morning, I would spend the rest of the weekend studying for my two Monday finals. And once Monday night came, I would do as Liz suggested and let up a bit. I would still study for the math final on Thursday, but being my easiest one, I would not need all day to study. I would take my time leisurely packing and cleaning. I would go on bike rides. I would probably spend some time in chat rooms. And I would hopefully have some more of these great random conversations with my IHP friends. The second part of finals week would be nice and relaxing. It would be fun. And it was only a week away.